By Leslie Lindsay
In her New York Times bestselling debut, A PARIS APARTMENT, Michelle Gable fictionalized the true story of a French courtesan and the discovery of her sealed-for-seventy-years Parisian apartment, which was filled to the rafters with stunning pieces of artwork and furniture, sparking wonder in readers across the world.
She’s back with I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS, but this time the brunt of the story takes place in a sleepy little English hamlet, a decaying old manse set behind barbed wire, an English pub, and a young women’s quest to find herself and her roots. The lives of three women intersect in this parallel story, dual-narrative, spanning several time periods.
I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS is a magical melding of historical fiction, a dash of mystery, and a contemporary read all rolled into one.
Today, I am honored to welcome Michelle Gable to the blog couch. I have fresh scones and spot of tea waiting…
Leslie Lindsay: Michelle, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I’m always so intrigued to find out what was haunting you when you set out to write I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS?
Michelle Gable: Thank you for having me! The first glimpse of I’ll See You in Paris came while researching A Paris Apartment, which features artist Giovanni Boldini as a central character. Back in the Gilded Age, you weren’t anyone unless he painted you and so I studied every person Boldini rendered. When I stumbled upon Gladys Deacon, the Duchess of Marlborough, I decided she had to get top billing in a future novel. She was known as the most beautiful woman of her era—and the most intelligent. And she had a thousand madcap stories. The Dazzling Miss Deacon was too delicious to leave to history!
One of the most riveting aspects to Gladys’s story was that she disappeared from her palace in the 1930s and turned up in a dilapidated, Grey Gardens-style manse in the 1970s. I knew the reader had to meet her in this location.
As with my first book, I wanted to incorporate a modern-day storyline too. The post-9/11 angle struck me as ideal given a large chunk of the tale takes place in the final years of the Vietnam War. The juxtaposition of the two wars (Afghanistan and Vietnam) intrigued me: one very much supported (at least at first) and one vastly out of favor.
L.L.: In many ways, the Duchess was like the old treasure trove one might find in grandmother’s attic. Can you speak to that, please?
Michelle Gable: Yes, Gladys Deacon was a treasure trove, both her home and her personality!
I used many of the Duchess’s expressions, mannerisms, and real-life stories throughout the novel. By age ten, Gladys had lived in four different countries. She was kidnapped at twelve. At sixteen she debuted in London where she met her future husband, who was already married. By twenty-one she was living in Paris, in an apartment she owned alone. She finally married at forty, but with a host of lovers before then. As she once said when the Duke was prattling on about politics: “Shut up! You know nothing about politics. I’ve slept with every prime minister in Europe and most kings. You are not qualified to speak.” Meanwhile, Winston Churchill was at the table.
Gladys had her famous eyes painted on the ceilings at Blenheim Palace, her married home, as well as sphinxes with her likeness installed in the gardens. As I mentioned, she disappeared from this palace in the 1930s and ended up at the Grange, a falling-down estate in Banbury, England. At the Grange, chicken wire surrounded the property, spaniels roamed (and mated) freely, and dead cats were stored in the icebox. Gladys used the stove to heat her toes and kept a gun nearby at all times. She even once sprayed “f*** you” in weed killer on her front lawn. The stories could go on and on! This is why I chose a “biography” to tell much of the Duchess’s tale. I wrote it but the anecdotes are real.
L.L.: The actual writing of I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS was done long-hand between your daughters’ softball games and your day job. That’s pretty ambitious, to say the least! I’m a soccer mom myself and find the quiet solitude of sitting in the car while my youngest practices to be the time I’m often the most productive at writing. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who eeks out a few minutes to write. Do you find writing serves other purposes for you, or is it simply to tell a story?
Michelle Gable: Writing definitely serves other purposes! It’s always been an escape for me. I’ve read that being busy, particularly with another job, is good for an author because the writing feels less like work. This is so true. I’ve finished my third novel and the process is still fun!
L.L.: Here’s my favorite notion in the book: “WHITE COLLAR GIRL NEEDED. Oxforshire, England. Personal assistant req’d for cultured older woman living alone. 400 dollars per month and free board. No exp necessary. Only a love of literature and the English countryside.” I’m already getting my Passport ready! Had you been to England before? How did you do your research?
Michelle Gable: I’ve been to England several times and travel does factor into the research. I was in London and Paris for a couple of weeks while writing I’ll See You in Paris but we didn’t get to Blenheim, unfortunately. But several of my daughters’ observations of Paris made it into the manuscript.
Other than seeing a location in person, I use any drop of information I can find whether it’s via the internet, interviews, out-of-print books, personal collections in libraries, or old magazines. Television also plays a role. Much of I’ll See You in Paris takes place in the 1970s and so I watched every episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not exactly “real” research but it got me in the mood!
Research is one of the best parts of being a writer. I love hunting for facts and stories and even a sense of atmosphere.
L.L.: There are many ways a reader could read I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS. What are you hoping they take away?
Michelle Gable: Mostly I want my books to be an escape. So if a reader gets lost in the story, that’s always a positive. I also love to read books that send me googling (and doing more research!) and I hope my novels do the same for others. It’s a great feeling when someone says they spent hours researching something from my books.
L.L.: What are you working on now?
Michelle Gable: My third novel is called Book of Summer and is slated to launch in May 2017. As with my first two, I used multiple time periods, but this one takes place on Nantucket. The story is based on the real-life erosion affecting the island. Central to the novel is Cliff House, a home that’s been in a family for 99 years and that’s now in danger of falling off the bluff. The story follows several generations of people who’ve lived there.
L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why?
Michelle Gable: Nantucket! Not just because it’s the setting of my next book but because I’m taking my family in July! We’re staying on the very road my characters live on. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I hope they love it as much as I do. I spend way too much time looking at real estate listings in Sconset. A girl can dream!
L.L.: What inspires you?
Michelle Gable: History, especially exploring the lesser-known parts of it. Relationships inspire me too, and love, whether it’s romantic, platonic, and/or familial. No matter the time period, these relationships are what drive us.
L.L.: Michelle, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Michelle Gable: Thank you!
Michelle Gable is the author of the New York Times bestselling debut A Paris Apartment.he works in finance, writes in fiction, and is also a sports-obsessed maniac (Go Chargers! Go Aztecs!), Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident, barre class fiend, tennis player, and card-carrying member of the Chickasaw Nation. Authorial aspirations in mind, she attended The College of William & Mary (Tribe Pride!) and majored in…accounting. To learn more, visit www.michellegable.com. Be sure to follow Michelle on:
[Cover and author images courtesy of K. Bassel at St. Martin’s Press. Image of Gladys Deacon as rendered by Giovanni Boldini retrieved from Wikipedia on 3.2.16. Mary Tyler Moore image from Wikipedia on 3.2.16]